22 July 2024, 21:10
By Natalka Antoniuk Feb 18, 2021

Why nobody will visit your virtual exhibition stand

They were the talk of 2020. Virtual events have filled your calendar, and, as a business owner, you’re probably thinking you should get involved – but how are you going to get prospects to visit your stand? Quadrant2Design’s Natalka Antoniuk reveals the biggest errors virtual exhibitors make, and how to avoid them …

Exhibitions are industry-specific events that allow businesses to display their products or services to a targeted audience. These shows attract huge international audiences (the UK’s largest venue, NEC Birmingham, boasts over 182,000 sqm and can hold over 100,000 people).

Virtual exhibitions offer the same experience, but in an online environment. Businesses use virtual exhibition stands to highlight their products and services to a niche audience – visitors log in to the digital environment, and can make their way from one virtual stand to another. There’s also the option to book one-to-one meetings via video call, and attend webinars and keynotes. 

Aren’t we going hybrid?

Hybrid events are quickly becoming the ‘new normal’, but we have a way to go before large gatherings can happen in person. The exhibition industry will transition to a hybrid format, with each event having an online presence as well as a physical presence. 

This is for two reasons. Firstly, trade shows attract international audiences. Travel restrictions and local lockdowns will make that impossible for the first half of 2021. Including a virtual space for exhibitors to showcase their brand will increase visitor numbers, offering more value.

Secondly, there are things we have all liked about virtual exhibitions. From a visitor’s perspective, you don’t have travel costs or long queues for lunch. From an exhibitor’s perspective, it’s easier to collect lead data for future marketing.

But there’s a problem. When the UK Government banned mass gatherings, many event organisers switched to virtual platforms – but although virtual events had been steadily growing in popularity, the industry was not ready for such a big shift.

The organisers promised the same experience that you’d expect from a busy trade show hall – of course, this was not the case. Virtual events were new and exciting at first, but, 300 Zoom meetings later, people lost interest, and visitor numbers started to drop. It became apparent that the virtual event organisers had to offer more.

Virtual exhibition stands

A virtual event is not the same as an in-person event. As with any comparison, it has advantages and disadvantages. Event organisers and exhibitors were guilty of treating both types of show the same. 

While the organisers have started offering more content, exhibitors are still trying to build virtual exhibition stands. Literally – they are asking for 3D, interactive stand designs that sit on a unique domain. 

It was cool at first, but what’s the point? An online environment gives exhibitors thousands of opportunities, yet they’re trying to recreate what they’ve been doing at in-person events throughout their lifetime, and now they’re wondering why nobody wants to visit their stand? 

Why people won’t visit your virtual exhibition stand

If you’ve found yourself feeling flat after a virtual trade show, you’re not alone. Exhibitors weren’t ready for the virtual shift, and everyone spent last year chasing their tails.

But, if you have a space booked at an upcoming virtual exhibition, you’re in luck – here’s the top three mistakes exhibitors make when it comes to their virtual exhibition stand …

1. No pre-show marketing

Simply having a space at a virtual exhibition should not count as marketing. You are responsible for telling people what show you’re exhibiting at, and inviting them to come and chat with you.

Funnily enough, people do this really well when it comes to in-person events. Social media, content marketing and email marketing have all proven effective. Consider changing your email signature and distributing a press release to industry-specific publications as well. 

If you want people to visit your virtual stand, they have to know it exists. Use a pre-show marketing calendar to help you strategise. 

2. No incentive

Everyone knows the way to a trade show visitor’s heart is freebies. How many times have you left an event with a bag full of branded pens, mousemats and USB sticks?

Exhibitors use promotional giveaways to incentivise visitors over to their stand. This is a tradition that has been lost in the virtual transition (your visitors can’t pick up a free pen online).

What they can do is enter competitions. Exhibition stand games are popular amongst visitors and exhibitors. All a delegate has to do is fill out your contact form to be in with a chance to win a grand prize. 

Think about your prize (because this is the real incentive), and take advantage of the budget you’ve saved through not paying for promotional literature and giveaways.

3. No engagement

In-person trade shows are all about atmosphere. With so many people with a shared interest under one roof, it’s hard not to be excited. 

Because of this environment (and strategic exhibition stand staff), people naturally engage with each other – but it doesn’t happen like that online.Most visitors are at home with a comfy pair of trousers on, waiting for the advertised speaker sessions. Unless they actively look for your stand, they’re unlikely to engage with you. You have to find them.

Just as your staff would have done in the venue, seek out prospects and interact with them. Invite them to enter your competition or watch a product demonstration – it’s your job to engage potential customers.

Now you know the biggest mistakes that virtual exhibitors make, you know exactly what not to do. 

The event organiser’s job is over once you’ve booked your space at a show. It’s your responsibility to tell people you’re exhibiting, encourage them to visit your stand and engage with attendees.

Don’t let your virtual exhibition be a flop. There’s no reason you can’t make this strategy a huge success.

Natalka is a professional SEO content writer that has written for sites including G2, Multibriefs and Adrants. Quadrant2Design is a UK-based exhibition stand contractor that operates throughout the UK and Europe. This article featured in the January 2021 issue of Furniture News.

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